In the Locker Room with Kaïa Austin, Carmen Wolcott and Kanti Keislar


Briana Santiago

Kaïa Austin (left), Carmen Wolcott and Kanti Keislar

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

This week, the Review sat down with members of the women’s and trans rugby team, the Rhinos, senior Kanti Keislar, first-year Carmen Wolcott and junior Kaïa Austin, to discuss the unique culture of the rugby team, why they enjoy the sport and their favorite team traditions.

How’s the season going so far?

Kanti Keislar: I think that the tournament that we had this weekend was the best we’ve played all semester. We had a disadvantage compared to a lot of the other teams because we are the only team in the conference right now that doesn’t have an official coach. I think that our performance as a team has been really good considering that.

Kaïa Austin: It’s always a little hard getting started in the spring because we’re stuck in the field house, and we’re a club sport, so we have that midnight to 1:30 a.m. slot, and when it’s negative 10 degrees out or worse, getting people to go to that practice is tough. Also, we’re inside on the turf field where you can’t really take as much contact as you would outside because tackling onto a turf field can be pretty dangerous and painful. So we are so glad to finally be outside. This is only our second week outside, but it’s already making a huge difference. Also, this is our offseason, so we are playing sevens, so it’s much more intense and concentrated than when we play with 15 people.

Carmen Wolcott: Awesome. I haven’t been playing this semester, but I’ve been watching from the sidelines, and we’re playing really well. We’re not winning the games, but we’re playing really well.

Can you talk about the culture of the Rhinos rugby team?

KK: We have a pretty unique team culture. I think that, talking to some of the players who have been around longer, the team has changed a lot in the last few years. Part of our team culture now is actively talking about our team culture. We’ve had so many discussions this year about various things that we’ve decided are important to talk about because they shape people’s experiences on the team.

KA: I think the Rhinos represent different things for different people. People have very different experiences with the team. Some people join the Rhinos because they want to play rugby — I love the sport of rugby — and the reputation of the Rhinos as more of a social group can sometimes mask that we’re all really into the sport. At the same time, there are a lot of people who find the Rhinos to be sort of a family. It’s a family that has its problems, but it also tries to be really supportive and create a comfortable environment where people can hang out and be themselves with other people they love.

CW: We’re a sports team, and we all love the sport, but we are in some way a family also. Families have some issues, but we are working really hard to figure things out.

What do you like about playing rugby?

KK: Sometimes it’s hard for me to separate what I like about playing rugby from what I enjoy about playing rugby with this team. I don’t know that I’ll feel the same way about rugby when I graduate and if I join another team. What I’ve enjoyed the most is the learning process, and that has been shaped a lot by the team. I don’t think I’d feel the same way if I had been formally coached.

KA: I like that it’s both an individual and a team sport. When you’re on the pitch, everything you do matters because you could be the person to make the breakaway and score a try if you put that extra energy and sprint through, but at the same time, it is absolutely a team sport, and when you are making a breakaway, you need someone in support of you in case you get tackled. Then they can finish it and score that try for you. One of my favorite things is when two people collectively make a try together. For me, I’m in the scrum, so it’s more about making tackles and playing awesome defense. I also love walking onto the pitch on a Saturday morning when the sun’s out and we have glitter on our faces, and it’s like, “We’re here, we’re ready, and we’re about to tackle some people into the mud.”

CW: I really like the power it gives me. I walk on that field, and I know that I can take down any of the other people on that field, and I’m going to if I have to. That just lights a fire inside of me.

Do you feel like you’re in good physical shape because you practice and play all the time?

KK: This is something I’ve been thinking about recently because I did come from a varsity sport. When I dropped that sport, I was the most “in shape” I’ve ever been, and I’m not that “in shape” now. When I stopped working out as much, I had this thought that I was meeting this standard, but that’s arbitrary, and I didn’t work out that way because I wanted to, I worked out that way for the sport that I played. Now, when I work out for rugby, I know whatever I want to do with that will be fine.

KA: That’s not the focus. When you’re on the pitch playing a game, you think your fitness matters so much, but we also accept everyone and everyone comes to rugby with a different background. While some people are coming from varsity sports, a lot of people aren’t, and rugby tries to be really inclusive, which means not emphasizing arbitrary, unhelpful standards. A team can function with people who are good at a lot of different things, but I do definitely feel great by the end of the season. At the beginning of every practice we run a mile, and usually a couple weeks in, I’m like, “Yes, my legs feel great!”

CW: I don’t really like the term “in shape,” especially when used for rugby. One of my favorite things about rugby as a sport is that anybody can play it, regardless of their size or their shape. Saying “in shape” makes it feel like we have to conform to a certain shape, but I definitely feel like my body can do a lot more, and I feel a lot more confident about my body than before I joined the team.

What are some of your team’s traditions?

KK: We have a couple copies of this book called Rhinoceros Success, and before every game, we read a couple passages from it. It’s about how to succeed, but it uses rhinoceros language. It’s brilliant. My favorite line from it is, “Dreams are only dreams unless you become a rhinoceros and charge them down.”

KA: I like that when someone scores a try for the first time, we call them a rugby queen or whatever they want to be called, and there is a specific song that we sing, and they run around the pitch with some degree of clothing on or off their body.

CW: I really like socializing. I know it’s a common rugby thing, but I really like socializing with the other teams after the games. I think that’s such a cool thing about this sport. It really builds camaraderie among teams.